INDIANAPOLIS – Michael Andretti wouldn’t forget him, gone though he was. Kurt Busch might have left the building, but that didn’t mean his DNA didn’t linger there.
And so in Victory Lane, as Ryan Hunter-Reay basked in the Indianapolis 500 victory that eluded him the year before, Andretti took it all in, the proud owner. And at some point he let his gaze on the scoring pylon down the way, with the No. 28 at the top of it and Nos. 25, 34 and 26 clustered just beneath it.
No. 26 was Busch’s car. He was, by that time, on a plane bound south and east for Charlotte and his night job, but there he was on the pylon in sixth place, right behind No. 2 (Juan Pablo Montoya) and just ahead of No. 11 (Sebastien Bourdais).
It was amazing when I looked up at the pylon to see all our cars up there in the top six, Andretti said. Just an amazing team effort. Couldn’t have been a better day. Even Kurt to be up there in the top six. He drove a great race.
And a smart race. And a patient race. And every kind of race you might not have expected from a guy who’s had, let’s face it, a few impulse control issues during an often tempestuous career in NASCAR.
None of that was in evidence this month at Indianapolis, and especially not Sunday.
After destroying his primary car last Monday he started 12th in Marco Andretti’s backup, and immediately was a quick study.
Cautious early, he dropped as low as 19th and then made his way quietly toward the front on a day when there were few cautions – five for 21 laps – and getting to the front required you to race someone.
We settled in and ran laps and tried to pace ourselves, Busch said before jetting off to the Coca-Cola 600. I just tried to feel the car all race long. My throat’s real dry because I was smiling the whole time and fresh air was coming in my mouth.
Busch wound up with the highest finish of any rookie – 19-year-old Sage Karam three spots behind him in ninth – and the best for any driver attempting the double outside of Busch’s NASCAR owner, Tony Stewart, who also finished sixth in 2001.
Busch’s attempt to finish two races in one day ended with a blown engine late in Coca-Cola 600. He completed about 907 miles in his quest.
What an unbelievable experience, said Busch, who landed at Charlotte Motor Speedway at 4:53, more than an hour before the 6 p.m. start. It is a dream come true to have an Andretti Autosport car to drive at Indy. I’m sure the car was a top-five car. I was on edge those two restarts, making adjustments, trying to find air. I had to lift a little bit in turn two all day.
(But) overall, I’m very pleased. I can’t believe the execution of this team. To be able to post a sixth-place finish was beyond my wildest expectations.